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Scary Sandboarding Down Giant Sand Dunes in Peru

Gareth and I prepare to sandboard with our Peruvian brothers.

Gareth and I prepare to sandboard with our Peruvian brothers.

Sandboard in Peru?!

Perhaps you’ve heard of snowboarding, and perhaps you’ve heard of surfboarding. Both activities are adrenaline-filled and frequently televised… but neither can match the feeling of sand in your underpants that you gain from a little activity known as SANDboarding.

Several summers ago, I lived in Peru and volunteer-taught with my Boston teacher friend, Gareth, in the fish factory town of Chimbote. We lived with the family that owned the school, and got along famously.

One evening, over a large plate of ceviche (raw fish in lemon juice with hot peppers), our host brother, Rudy, said to us in Spanish: “I need a favor.”

“Go ahead and ask,” Gareth and I replied. We were more than happy to help out this family that had shown us such great hospitality.

Ready to slide down, high atop the sand dune in Peru!

Ready to slide down, high atop the sand dune in Peru!

“I’m an entrepreneur,” Rudy revealed, “and I am trying to start a new business. I think it’s going to be VERY successful, but I need your help.”

“What’s your business?” we asked, very curious.

“Sandboarding!” proclaimed Rudy. “Sliding down big sand dunes on snowboards! It is extremely fun, and I believe it will become the hot new tourist attraction in this area, with my marketing!”

“Sounds scary,” we gasped. “So what do you need us for?”

“For the marketing,” explained Rudy, “I need more photos of happy people having fun sandboarding. And so I want us to all go do it tomorrow!”

I start my graceful sandboard descent... so far so good!

I start my graceful sandboard descent… so far so good!

Gareth and I nearly choked on our raw fish.

The next day we arrived in a rickety truck to the dunes outside of town. The first thing I saw was that the dunes were not a powdery, graceful white sand as I had dreamed… no. Rather, the large mountains consisted of swirled brown and darker brown sand, pockmarked with rocks, shells, and other such sharp objects. I immediately imagined these sharp objects down my pants.

And I was not wrong.

After a few posed shots with the sandboards, our intrepid troupe hiked up the tallest dune. My heart began to thump and airborne sand invaded my lungs.

“Maybe I’ll just stay up here,” I said. “I mean, I’ve never even skied before! How the heck am I supposed to survive this?”

Agh! Falling! Can I hold the sand for balance? Agh! No!

Agh! Falling! Can I hold the sand for balance? Agh! No!

“No, no!” Rudy insisted, “you’ll be fine! Watch this!” With those words, he strapped the faded white board to his feet and pushed off.

Wow! How gracefully he glided down the dune! Down, down, he sped, wavy hair ruffling in the breeze. At last he reached the bottom and slid to a perfect stop. Rudy unstrapped the board from his feet and we all applauded, our claps bouncing off the wide expanse of dunes.

Our other host brothers sandboarded down next, each more elegant and ease-filled than the first.

“Geez,” I thought, “maybe this sandboarding thing isn’t so hard after all.”

Gareth went next. With years of skiing and snowboarding experience behind her, she was unsteady at first but quickly gained her balance and made it to the bottom in impressive fashion.

Sliding down the whole dune on my butt. Sand inside pants.

Sliding down the whole dune on my butt. Sand inside pants.

And then it was my turn! Rudy bounded back up the dune. “I’ll give you your push to get going!” he declared confidently. I did not desire a push. Rather, I desired to push the sand dune off the day’s itinerary entirely and go eat pollo a la brasa instead. But politeness was politeness, and when in Peru, sandboard as the Peruvian host brothers do.

So I hooked my sneakers into the loop on the board, and…

“Wait!” I screamed, “I’m not ready!”

But Rudy had already pushed… and the sliding had begun!

These photos aptly document the horrific 3-minute journey of grittiness and humiliation I experienced in my single attempt in Peru at sandboarding. After a confident first two seconds, I promptly lost my balance and leaned down to grab the sand as a handrail. Unfortunately, it does not work to hold the moving ground to steady yourself.

Resolved: I prefer eating or salsa dancing to sandboarding.

Resolved: I prefer eating or salsa dancing to sandboarding.

By the fourth second of my descent, I had promptly flipped onto my side, entire body pressed against the rapidly moving sand dune. Sand filled my shoes, socks, pants, undergarments, ears, hair, and fingernails with each foot further I slid. And the dune kept going!

Sheesh!

At the blessed bottom of the mountain, Gareth and our impish 5-year old host brother were there to greet me, stifling giggles.

“You did well!” lied Gareth.

“Never make me get on a sandboard again, please!” I begged.

But it all was worth it in the end. Despite the drama, our (non-falling-on-our-butts) photos turned out well enough to help market Rudy’s business, and his “Sandboarding Chimbote” company is now attracting numerous visitors!

Our host brother, showing how to actually sandboard.

Our host brother, showing how to actually sandboard.

And me? Believe it or not, I DID choose to sandboard again… this time in Vietnam!

For the full story (plus really gorgeous photos) of what sandboarding looks like in Mui Ne, Vietnam, click here!

What about you? Have you ever tried sandboarding? Would you like to? Weigh in!

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to pick the remaining sand out of my hair… five years later. :)

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